Newsrooms around America have been rattled by last week’s murders of five people at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md.
A man who’s been upset with the newspaper since 2011 used a shotgun to blast through a glass wall and kill four journalists and an advertising assistant.
The report is jarring because every newspaper that does serious reporting has a long list of people upset with it for some reason. We certainly have them here — people who wanted their names kept out of the police blotter, who were irritated we reported their court conviction, who didn’t like the way we quoted them at a public meeting, who were upset with an opinion column, and on and on.
Gunmen have shot up schools, theaters, churches, concerts, nightclubs, and it was only a matter of time before newsrooms were added to the list.
By and large, people in the news business are idealists. To us, truth matters. In our news coverage, we think it’s essential to find out what really happened, so we can tell the people who depend on us for information. And when the quest for truth puts people just like us on the wrong end of a 12-gauge shotgun, that sense of idealism suddenly has a big crack in it.
Perhaps we’re naïve. We think people generally respect the role of the free press, particularly in small communities like ours. We think people understand that our newspapers strive to give people the information they need to make good decisions — the fundamental principle of our fragile democracy. We hope people believe in the greater good — that it’s important to have a clear, thorough report on what’s going on in the community, written as accurately as you can write a first draft of history.
News coverage has fallen on hard times in many parts of the United States, undercut by bad financial decisions or predatory owners or inability to keep up with the changing information marketplace.
At the same time, sadly led by the president of the United States, the political climate has turned hostile toward the press — “fake news,” “enemy of the people,” the kind of demonizing that reduces real people to caricatures, and when you’re a caricature rather than a real flesh-and-flood person, it seems much easier for people to go on the attack.
The Capital Gazette is an excellent newspaper, but it’s small; its reporting stays pretty close to home. It focuses on its communities and the people who make them tick.
The same is true of our newspapers, and indeed most of the newspapers in the United States. We’re close to our communities and the people in them. We have always believed that connection is crucial, and that if we do a good job, the community will be served well, and the community will support us.
It has been our belief that people appreciate the investments we continue to make in local news coverage, and the excellence we strive for in reporting, writing, photography and presentation.
The people at the Capital Gazette felt the same way. And if its news staff can be gunned down, so can the staff in any other newsroom.
While we didn’t actually know the murdered reporters and editors, we knew them in spirit. They are us, and vice versa.
It’s like a death in the family.